NEW YORK – As they begun the academic year this month, students at New York University received several documents to help with their arrival on campus. One of them, a student- made “disorientation guide” that aims to “help demystify the systems of power behind the University and act as a guide to activism on campus,” largely criticizes NYU’s connections to Israel.
The 50-page handbook was created by “radical activists and groups” to “focus on the most destructive things NYU either perpetuates or is complicit with.”
Israel is mentioned 55 times, more than the words “Trump,” “alt-right,” “racism,” “fascism,” “white supremacy,” and “socialism” combined.
In its introduction, the handbook accuses the university of “behaving like a multinational corporation and 21st-century colonial power.”
Toward the middle of the document, a two-page spread is dedicated to the organization Birthright.
“One table you will most definitely encounter, not only this week, but throughout your time at NYU, will be decorated with signs advertising ‘Free Trips to Israel,’ or asking you to ‘Join Taglit-Birthright,’” the guide tells students. “While exclusive to Jewish students and marked as an all-expenses paid vacation that allows students to connect with their heritage, this ‘vacation’ is pure propaganda.”
Birthright, the authors wrote, is “designed to obscure the destruction of Palestinian homes, lives, history, and culture, with images of smiling kids having the vacation of their lives.”
“That NYU sponsors an official Birthright trip and bears the names of the founders of Taglit- Birthright in its institutional structure and operates a portal campus in Tel Aviv is a testament of its own complicity in this violence,” they continued.
Another section of the guide focuses on Students for Justice in Palestine and responds to accusations against the group.
“As flattered as we are by the attention that Zionist propaganda organizations have given us, we the students for justice in Palestine are shockingly not here to promote a violent hateful agenda,” the text reads. “Instead, we endorsed the opposite: Justice for the Palestinian people who have been ruthlessly oppressed by Israel.”
The authors accuse the university of silencing them on the issue, mentioning last year’s incident where the graduate student union passed a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution against Israel that was publicly condemned by the president as contrary to NYU’s core principles of academic freedom.
“In our view, the asymmetrical condemnation that Palestinian activists and those in solidarity receive is what is really contrary to NYU’s core principles,” the handbook says. “The administration has shown an obvious desire to cuddle Zionist organizations and individuals at the expense of our safety on campus.”
In addition, the authors called on the university to shut down its study-abroad site in Tel Aviv, “keeping in line with its aforementioned core principles.”
One page is also dedicated to praising Jewish Voice for Peace.
The text, written by the group itself, says JVP rejects “the conflation of Zionism and Judaism” and “calls for an end to Israel’s decades-long occupation, apartheid, denial or refugee rights, and systemic oppression of Palestinian People.”
“Criticism of the Israeli government for its past and present human rights violation is not antisemitic; rather, such principled criticism resonates with values of justice and liberation that we as Jews hold dear,” it wrote.
They also describe the BDS movement as “a means of nonviolent resistance” and vow to “dispel the BDS mythos that are left undisputed at NYU.”
The Israel education organization StandWithUS noted that such guides were seen in other universities across the United States this month like Tufts University.
At the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, too, efforts to delegitimize Israel from the first days on campus have been recorded. These campaigns include attempts to draw a parallel between Israel and white supremacy.
“This attempts to make Israel out to be the premier evil in the world,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs. “This obsessive fixation on the world’s only Jewish state is unambiguously antisemitic.”
“This is a clear call for violence against Jews and others who support Israel,” she added. “As such, it is a clear physical threat and should be treated as such by universities and law enforcement. A clear red line needs to be drawn.”
StandWithUs said it calls on the administrations of NYU, Tufts and UIUC to “use their own First Amendment rights to issue a clear condemnation of those attempting to silence Jewish and other pro-Israel students or faculty who have the constitutionally protected right to free speech, religious and academic freedom, including a safe learning environment at the university.”
StandWithUs executive director of campus affairs Ron Krudo said that “comparing Zionism – the movement for Jewish liberation and self-determination – to ideologies that support oppression and genocide against Jews is grotesquely racist.”
He continued: “This rhetoric also silences the voices of countless Jews of color, like my family who found freedom in Israel after centuries of oppression in Iraq and Turkey. Groups like SJP conveniently dismiss the fact that over 50% of Israel’s citizens would not be viewed as ‘white’ in America.”